Metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitsky)
Paschal Epistle 1922
Christ is Risen!
Brethren, Russians and all Orthodox Christians, beloved in Christ!
The grace-filled day of the resurrection of Christ has arrived, when our faith is strengthened, hope increases, and holy love shines forth. On this day, even the wicked become good, the envious joyful, the despondent are comforted. And those who before were firm believers and lovers of their brethren are today filled with compunctionate ecstasy, and desire to embrace the whole world, and greet even those whom yesterday they considered their enemies.
And so we chant in church “It is the day of the Resurrection! Let us adorn ourselves with the splendor of the festival and embrace one another! And let us say, O brethren, even unto those who hate us: ‘Let us forgive all things at the Resurrection, and thus let us cry out: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!'”
Note, beloved brethren, that such grace-filled joy on the day of Holy Pascha, such a spiritual gift, is given by God only to Orthodox Christians. Other faiths, even those whose followers also call themselves Christians (for example, the Roman Catholics, the Greek Catholics, the Protestants), although they also observe the feast of the resurrection of Christ, experience nothing similar, but celebrate it the way they do all their other feasts.
Only the Russians and the other Orthodox Christians are filled with grace-bearing joy, love and universal forgiveness on this holy and great day, and in this you may see the rightness of our Faith, the Truth of our Church.
When, fifty or a hundred years before Saint Vladimir, there came to Kiev from Constantinople an Orthodox preacher, who demonstrated to the people the holiness of the Gospel, our pagan ancestors said to him: “We feel in our hearts that thou speakest the truth; but if this book is from God, cast it into the fire: if it doth not burn, we will be fully convinced by thy preaching and will accept baptism.” Having prayed, the preacher threw the Holy Gospel into the fire, and it remained unharmed: even the ribbons set in it did not burn.
And now also, if they ask us what proof you can offer for the superiority and genuineness of the Orthodox Faith, answer those who ask: Go to our church on Holy Pascha night, when Christ's victory over the falsehood of Judaism, over the death to which we were condemned for the sin of our forefather Adam and for our own sins, is glorified; come hear the paschal singing; come look at the faces of those who pray, and you will perceive in them a reflection of the grace of Christ, you will see what a manifest gift of grace is instilled in the hearts of the faithful, how on this day their souls are purified of sins, and how the words of the catechetical homily of Saint John Chrysostom, which are read at Matins, are fulfilled in them: “Let all enjoy the banquet of faith, let all receive the riches of goodness. Let no-one lament his poverty, for our common kingship hath been made manifest. Let no-one mourn his transgressions, for forgiveness hath shone forth from the tomb. Let no-one fear death, for the death of the Savior hath set us free.”
Whence comes the joy which we are vouchsafed on the night of Holy Pascha? This, my brother Christians, is a gift of God's grace, which is poured forth into our hearts directly from God. On this day, the Lord, when He has opened paradise by His resurrection, gives to the children of the Church to taste, in part, that very joy which the souls of the saved are vouchsafed in paradise. And this joy, which is given to the children of the Church and is not given to heretics and renegades—for whom the Church is not their mother and God is not their Father—is clear proof of the rightness of our Orthodox Church, as the holy fathers have taught.
Are you aware that when many of the heterodox—Lutherans, Latins, Anglicans—come to our church on the night of Holy Pascha, say: “Here we see that the grace of God is with the Orthodox: only children of the true Church are able to rejoice in Christ in this way, for it pours forth grace from the Lord upon them.” And it often happens that, having attended our paschal Matins and Liturgy, the heterodox convert to the Orthodox Faith, as it was in the days of the holy apostles, when an unbeliever, entering the assembly of praying and prophesying Christians, was also imbued with grace and said: “Truly God is with you” (I Cor. 14:1-25).
During these holy days, we are friends of Christ and do not render servile homage to Him as do the Catholics, Uniates and Protestants, but glorify His resurrection with a full, gracious joy, as sons; and filling each other with love as brethren we lovingly kiss all our acquaintances thrice on the lips, saying: “Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!” And thus also does the priest greet Christians when he censes them and makes the sign of the holy Cross over them throughout the paschal period.
Yea, on this day God is with us, and we are with God, not as condemned slaves, but as brethren of Christ. This is why by the First Ecumenical Council, and later also at the Sixth Ecumenical Council, kneeling and prostrations were forbidden from the day of Holy Pascha through Vespers of Holy Pentecost: for on this day Christ called the faithful not slaves, but His brothers, saying to Mary Magdalene: “Go to My brethren, and say unto them: ‘I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God'” [Jn. 20:17]. And two days earlier, He said even more clearly: “Henceforth I call you not servants… but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you” (Jn. 15:15).
But now has the time come which sanctifies all men and must break those snares for all who have fallen into the snares of delusion, and return men to the shelter of the true Orthodox Church.
True, Russian people who have learned little in the semi-Christian modern schools are barely aware of the saving power of our membership in the Holy Church , and place value only on abstract belief. Now exile in foreign lands has opened the eyes of many: “Now hath come the time which sanctifieth all men.” We have understood that only the Orthodox Church has a vital, active fellowship with heaven, and on the day of Holy Pascha it calls us to the spiritual banquet with the voice of Saint John Chrysostom: “The table is laden: take delight therein, all of you. The calf hath been fattened: let no-one depart hungry.” And further: “Christ hath risen, and the demons have fallen! Christ hath risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ hath risen, and life is restored! Christ hath risen, and not one of the dead remaineth in the grave.” Let us go to Him from the graves of our sins and little faith. To Him “Who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion, for ever and ever. Amen” (Rev. 1:5-6).